Sunday, October 15, 2006

opening-weekend review of *The Woman in Black*

at Interplayers through Oct. 28

 It’s a ghost story with a couple of literally scalp-tingling, goose-bump moments. It features creepy lighting and sound effects. It’s performed well by a versatile pair of actors. It has that spooky, haunted-mansion feel appropriate to the weeks before Halloween.

So why then isn’t the Interplayers production of *The Woman in Black* (through Oct. 28) more successful? Why is it, so often, not very scary?

Playwright Stephen Mallatratt’s script goes into a long windup about the nature of reality and illusion, then gets all talky on us, even during its most sensational scenes. Then it telegraphs its ending badly, draining suspense out of the final minutes. There’s much discussion of how retelling a tragic story will help exorcise its lingering demons; but really, sometimes, going on and on about creepy creatures just makes them overstay their welcome.

The two Damons in this cast, however — Damon Abdallah as the Victorian gentleman haunted by ghosts and Damon Mentzer as the actor hired to help perform an exorcism through drama — do commendable jobs with this material. Abdallah has the showier part, getting to play more characters and demonstrating his versatility with accents and body postures. He’s an overworked Dickensian clerk, an invalid lawyer, a forbidding coachman, a hunchbacked old fogey, a distinguished landowner — each nicely distinguished by voice and mannerisms. Mentzer (he’s the shorter one) nicely differentiates his officious, skeptical actor from the fellow who later on has to undergo a few nights in a mansion isolated deep in the Yorkshire marshes. Neither actor excels at their characters’ horror-stricken moments, but that’s at least partly because Mallatratt saddles them with a lot of self-talk about just how horrified they are.

The show is also strong technically. Dan Heggem’s lighting design slants sideways to cast oversize shadows, then proves especially versatile during one freaky nightmare sequence with lights flashing on and off all over. In a play set in the late 19th century and which refers often to the wonders of new-fangled sound recording, Patrick Treadway’s sound design has to work wonders, and it does: We hear the crisp sounds of the clock’s ticking and the clip-clop of hooves on pavement, and one mélange of sound effects, just as it should be, is phantasmagoric. As director Ron Ford writes in his program note, “the sound and light effects amount to a third character in this production.”

Too bad they’re in support of a thought-provoking, sometimes involving but mostly plodding script.


For comments on Mallatratt’s use of the play-within-a-play and attempt at inverting fictional and actual worlds (and for the second half of this review), pick up a copy of the Oct. 19 *Inlander.*

Creepy trivia: Henry Irving, the famous Victorian actor referred to several times in this show, died 101 years (to the day) before Interplayers’ opening night. Irving died on Oct. 13, 1905 — which was also Friday the 13th.


At October 15, 2006 9:49 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nifty bit of trivia about Irving. I didn't know that, and how appropraitely creepy. Thanks for putting that together and sharing it.

At October 16, 2006 11:04 PM , Blogger KaseyRTGraham said...

I'm so glad a Spokane theatre is doing 'The Woman in Black'.

I love this ghost play. It's such a wonderfully old-fashioned feeling piece. I wish I could see it.

At October 17, 2006 12:05 AM , Blogger Bobo the Theater Ho said...

Kasey, the last thing you said to me was that you didn't much care for *Pippin* -- and I loved it. Now you write in to express appreciation for *Woman* -- and I just spent the second half of my review attacking the script. Are we destined forever to disagree?
Probably not.
So give us news of the fall tour of *Producers.* Spill.

At October 17, 2006 12:24 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Didn't Interplayers already do this show 7 or 8 years ago?

At October 17, 2006 10:08 PM , Blogger KaseyRTGraham said...

I guess I'm an old fashioned kind of person. I like 'The Producers' because despite it's silly, adult plot and script it's got the feel of an old time musical. I like the feel of a vaudeville sketch too where the jokes were old the first time they were delivered.

I have to admit I'd only seen and read 'Woman in Black' once in London, but I remember being completely engaged in the story-telling and totally wrapped up in the sheer camp fire feel. Where you're not really scared but you still check over your shoulder every once in a while.

And as for Pippin, I don't connect with the show at all. I think I might have enjoyed it's original run but since then everything the show tries to be has been done so much better in various shows.

Anyhow hope all is well.

At October 24, 2006 12:53 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

To answer the above question, yes this is the second time Interplayers has done "Woman in Black." 10 years ago (or so) it featured Rick Hamblin and Tim McMurray and was directed by Michael Weaver. I remember it was really scary and I don't remember it being talky at all. But times change a lot in ten years.

At October 28, 2006 12:24 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

sounds like InTerplayers is a little scary right now.

At November 04, 2006 9:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

They will sure miss Heather.


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